Sculpting 101 At Main Street Square

Sep 30, 2013

It’s been three months since work began on the Passage of Wind and Water sculpture project at Rapid City’s Main Street Square. During that period we’ve visited the location several times to speak with the artist about his work, but haven’t explored how he actually creates his art. Today we take another tour of the sculpture site for the first of a two-part series calledToday we take another tour of the sculpture site for the first of a two-part series he’s calling “Sculpting 101”.    “Sculpting 101”.  


Welcome to “Sculpting 101”. Our teacher is world class sculptor Masayuki Nagase. Our classroom is the work site for the Passage of Wind and Water sculpture. The only tools required are your ears. Let’s begin.

“When you get a job…you don’t generally arrive someplace where the stones are already here, right? “I ask Yuki Nagase. “You have to go pick a stone.”                                               

“That’s generally what happens,” Yuki replies.    

“Okay,” I  say. “So, explain that. You get an assignment and you say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this project. The first thing you have to do is what? Do you have to go get a stone?”                       

“Well, first I have to work on my concept and bring up my image of (the) work,” Yuki explains. “Then probably I try to find the material suitable for that image.”  

In this situation, Yuki presented his concept to the committee overseeing the Main Street Square sculpture project in 2012 and was chosen to create his image. But the material he would work with – 19 granite stones and 2 granite-faced pillars – were already in place at the sculpting site.

Masayuki Nagase next to the first stone sculpture he created for The Passage of Wind and Water
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

“I’m going to  presume there’s a plus and a minus to having the stone all ready, “ I observe.

“Okay, “ Yuki says.  “Some of the plus…you don’t have to bother spending time and energy to find the material…running around, going to the quarry or some stone companies. So, it’s already here. And (it) reduces so much work…to install stone, also. That always a big job.”

Main Street Square is located in the heart of downtown Rapid City. Over the past few years it’s become THE place for area residents to gather for everything from outdoor summer concerts to winter ice skating. Over the last few months, it’s become the site for the largest privately funded art project in the country. 

With simple hand tools like a hammer and chisel, Yuki Nagase has begun transforming what were once 21 plain granite stones into individual works of art as city traffic passes by just a few yards away. The stones he’s worked on already show images of an ammonite, waves, blades of grass, and human as well as animal footprints.

Masayuki Nagase's primary sculpting tools - hammer and chisel
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

“All right,” I continue. “So, that’s a positive. Is there a drawback to coming and having pieces here…from an artistic standpoint? Are you already limited in what you can do?    

“Yes, that’s’s (a) kind of conditions you get,” Yuki says. “And sometimes it really restricts what you do. So, my challenge was how to take this condition as a sort of…advantage. Turn it around.”

“Is that difficult to do?” I ask.


“It is difficult,” Yuki admits. “Honestly...t’s very challenging.”   

“But you did it,” I comment. 

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Yuki says. 

Yuki Nagase is as honest as he is humble and readily admits that he’s taken on quite a task. 

“You’re basically creating twenty-one different sculptures here,” I observe. “Have you ever done that before?”

No, this is the first time probably on this scale,” Yuki says. “Yeah. Once I used probably more than this material…for one project. But not much carving like this…you know…complete twenty-one pieces.” 

“I know sometimes when I sit down to do a story...I like collecting a lot of material,” I explain. “I’ll do a 5-minute story, but I’ll get an hour’s worth of tape. And then I have to go through all that tape to find the good stuff.  And I sit down and before I start on it I’ll say to myself…what was I thinking? You’ve only been doing it a couple of months, but have you had days where you say with a sigh “Okay, let me go do this?” Has that happened to you.” 

“Well, yeah…sometimes,” Yuki admits. “I have to really step back, you know, and look at what I’m doing.”

This reminds me of a sketching class I took years ago where I was told to step back from my work and turn it upside when I was stumped on where to go.

“You obviously can’t do that with a stone,” I comment. “But...”

“I can…I can probably,” Yuki laughs, walking toward one of the massive granite stones he’s carving, “Well, you know, actually I do, because big pieces I don’t want to move around.”

So, Yuki moves himself instead, looking at his work from a variety of positions and angles to determine the next place his hammer and chisel will make their mark as he creates the Passage of Wind and Water.

(In the next Dakota Digest we’ll learn about the tools Yuki Nagase uses and the process of transforming bare stone into art on the final edition of Sculpting 101.)